094: Using nonviolent communication to parent more peacefully

Today’s episode pulls together a lot of threads from previous shows, and will also give you some really concrete new tools using what’s called Nonviolent Communication to support you in your parenting.  It’s not like these are concepts that we’ve never discussed before, but sometimes hearing them in a different framework can be the key to making them ‘click’ for you. Our guest Christine King has been teaching these techniques to college students, teachers, and parents for over 17 years.


And I’m releasing this particular interview today because these tools are ones we’re learning how to use in the free online workshop.  In the workshop we’re going to spend a couple of weeks learning why our children trigger us so much and how to stop being triggered, and how we can move beyond the power struggles we get caught up in with our children so we can have the kind of relationship with them where their true needs as people are respected and met – and so are ours.


Parenting Membership 

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Things we discussed in the show:

Christine’s game for kids can be found here

Videos of Christine’s giraffe and jackal puppet shows are here

List of feelings and needs  (note that neither of these lists claims to be comprehensive)

Inbal Kashtan’s book Parenting From Your Heart

The No-Fault Zone game

Marshall Rosenberg’s book Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life


Read Full Transcript

Jen: 00:01:43
Hello and welcome to the Your Parenting Mojo podcast. I’m so excited for today’s episode because I think it really pulls together a lot of threads from previous shows and it will also give you some really concrete new tools to support you in your parenting. It’s not like these are concepts that we’ve never discussed before, but sometimes hearing them in a different framework can be the key to making them click for you. I’m releasing this particular interview today because these tools are ones we are learning how to use and the challenge that I’m kicking off on Monday, July 8th. In the challenge, we’re going to spend a couple of weeks learning why our children trigger us so much and how to stop being triggered and how we can move beyond the power struggles we get caught up in with our children so we can have the kind of relationship with them where their true needs as people are respected and met and so our ours.

Jen: 00:02:30

To help us with part of this, I’d like to introduce my guest, Christine King. Christine is a credential K12 teacher, mother of three and describes herself as a teacher and perpetual student. She says on her website that when she discovered the tool we’re going to discuss today, which is called Nonviolent Communication or NVC “it seemed like my entire worldview fell into place my lifelong interest in politics and justice, self-transformation and mindfulness.” Christine is a center for nonviolent communication certified trainer and has been teaching NVC principles and strategies to children, college students, teachers and parents for over 17 years. Currently, she teaches NVC at San Quentin State Prison and at the University of California. Today, we’re going to talk about how to bring NVC, which helps us to truly understand ourselves and our children to bring a new depth of relationship and ease to our family. Welcome, Christine.

Christine: 00:03:23

Thank you so much for inviting me to your program, Jen. I have listened to a few of your podcasts. I found them inspirational and educational and so I want to thank you for the work that you’re doing in this world to promote more respectful and more conscious parenting.

Jen: 00:03:45

Oh, thank you. You’ve got a lot to live up to then, don’t you?

Christine: 00:03:50

Yeah, that’s right.

Jen: 00:03:51

So let’s start by asking the question that everyone who’s listening, who has never heard of NVC before is thinking, what the heck is nonviolent communication? And if I’ve never heard of it and I’m not practicing it, does that mean that I’m communicating violently?

Christine: 00:04:06

Well, I have to smile hearing your question when you say, if I’m not practicing NVC, does that mean I’m communicating violently? And we get that response a lot in the NVC community. When people first hear the words nonviolent communication, they often say, I’m not a violent person so I don’t need this. I think their thought is that violence is primarily sort of a physical aggression and they don’t see that it’s really embedded in the language that we use. So to answer your question, what is nonviolent communication? I once asked that question to Marshall Rosenberg, who’s the founder of NVC, and what he said to me was exposed that communication process on the one hand and a consciousness on the other. So, we need both the process and the consciousness in order to stay in that place of connection and compassion, especially when people say things that are maybe painful to hear and difficult.

Christine: 00:05:20

So, getting back to that consciousness and the process, the consciousness is this desire to share power with the other person. That includes children, which means being aware of both their needs and being aware of our needs and trusting that it’s possible for both of us to get our needs met like even when there’s a disagreement. So, before just continuing, I want to say a bit more about shared power because children are smaller than us, it’s so easy for adults to use power over children to get them to do what they wanted them to do. So, parents often will make demands on their children. And especially of course the parent were tired, were stressed, maybe we’ve had a long busy day and we get home, we just want to rest and the child wants to run around and go crazy and have fun. So, to get them to be quiet or do what we want, we can resort to all kinds of means like bribery, threats, demands, coercion. So, I guess I would say if you’re communicating with those tactics then Marshall Rosenberg might say it is a more violent way to communicate and therefore that’s going to affect the child’s trust, their self-esteem and their willingness to cooperate.

Jen: 00:06:47

I’m not sure before I learned about this, would’ve equated those sort of techniques that are a regular part of the parenting arsenal I guess brings it right back to violence, doesn’t it? But these are things that we do without even thinking about because we feel as though we need our child’s cooperation. So we’re going to talk today a lot more about what else is there. But I think parents are probably thinking, what else is there if I’m not doing these things?

Christine: 00:07:15

Yeah, yeah. We’ll talk a lot about that hopefully. Yeah.

Jen: 00:07:17

Yeah. So, the idea, I just want to make sure we tease this out fully, you’ve mentioned sharing power with the other person and I think that that’s more natural to do when you’re perhaps thinking about communicating differently with your partner. When you’re thinking about it with your children, I think that’s a really kind of radical concept to think that you might share power with your child instead of having power over them. If you do share power with your child, you’re not saying, I’m not the parent anymore, you and I are equals, you get to say just as much as I do and what’s going to happen?

Christine: 00:07:50


Jen: 00:07:51

So, can you just kind of talk us through how that sort of power sharing works in a parent child dynamic?

Christine: 00:07:57

Yeah, so I think it’s not about being a permissive parent per se, like we talk about, you’re either permissive or you are a strict parent. It’s really just about acknowledging that your child also has needs and also has feelings. So, if we put our needs above the needs of the child, then the child’s going to think my name don’t really matter. I mean, they’re not going to think that in a concrete way, okay, my names don’t matter here, but they’re going to feel it and they’re going to experience it. So if they are cooperating with us because we make a demand on them or we somehow reward them or punish them or in some way expect them to do what we want them to do, then they’re going to do it. But they might do it, but it’s not going to be out of this sense of yeah, they’re really wanting to do it because they feel honored and they feel that they really matter.

Jen: 00:08:52

Okay. All right. So that leads me nicely to my next question. So, we talk a lot on the show and on the resources that I put out in blog posts and things like that about self-determination theory and that’s the idea that all people have a need for autonomy and competence and relatedness. So, I see some connections here in how this intersects with NVC. Can you help us think through that a little bit?

Christine: 00:09:15

Yeah, absolutely. So, I think the idea of self-determination and specifically self-determination theory fits in beautifully with NVC. We all have these natural tendencies to want, to learn, to grow, to master our environment and to also integrate new experiences into who we are. So, NVC encourages that self-determination and self-exploration. So, one interesting aspect of these three elements that you mentioned autonomy, competence, relatedness is how much all of them are related not to extrinsic motivations but intrinsic ones. So, NVC is based on intrinsically motivating and also power sharing. In nonviolent communication, the belief is that everything we say, everything we do is related to a universal human need and that these needs that connects us to the humanity of others. So, I want to encourage these intrinsic qualities in children because it’s going to make them stronger and more independent adults as well as strong and independent children.

Jen: 00:10:41

Yeah. Okay. So, before we get into sort of what our needs, and we might think I know what a need is, but there’s sort of a very specific idea here. Can you help us think through what are giraffes and jackals and how do you use those to explain principles of NVC?

Christine: 00:10:57

Well, giraffes and jackals are animals and Marshall Rosenberg started using giraffe and jackal puppets to illustrate his message of nonviolent communication. So, the idea is that the giraffe stands for her connection, caring for the needs of both parties. The reason he used giraffe is because it’s got a huge heart, one of the largest hearts of any land mammal. So, it’s very loving illustration. The jackal is meant to illustrate a more critical perspective. So, who’s right, who’s wrong, who wins, who loses. There’s a sort of kind of win-lose thinking. It’s not that the jackal is bad, giraffe is good, we don’t want to be thinking in those kinds of right-wrong thinking. But rather the jackal represents habitual behaviors and can be a reminder to return to our compassionate giraffe nature. So, if you go on YouTube, you can find a lot of videos with Marshall Rosenberg and other trainers using the puppets.

Jen: 00:12:17

There’s one or two of you, isn’t there?

Christine: 00:12:19

Yes. We have so much fun with those puppets.

Jen: 00:12:26

Yeah. I will post a link to those in the references for the episode. So, if anyone’s curious to see how that sort of explained with these puppets, it’s a pretty cool sort of elementary way of understanding some of these concepts. So, I want you to help us to understand what are some of the central ideas of NVC? Because then I think that kind of gives us the foundation to moving towards putting these into practice. So, it seems to me as the crux of this is kind of differences between things that maybe we haven’t even thought too much about there being differences between before. So, let’s start with the first one being what’s the difference between observations and evaluations?

Christine: 00:13:05

Great. I’m really glad that you asked me that. So, earlier I mentioned nonviolent communication being a consciousness and a process. So now we’re talking specifically about the process or the tools. So, the first one is observation. When we’re trying to use the language of nonviolent communication, we want to see things as they really are and not as we judge them or evaluate them to be. So we might say, what would a video camera see or hear? So video camera, it’s not going to see my child being a “brat”, right? Because that would be an evaluation or a judgment of the child. However, a video camera can hear my child say, no, when I say, hey, could you put your toys away? So, video camera would not see the child’s room as a mess and could see toys on the floor, clothes on the bed, and dirty dishes on the counter. The reason this is so important is that if we are coming from a judgment or an evaluation, we’ve already decided who’s right and who’s wrong. When we come from an observation, there is no moralistic thinking about who’s to blame, who’s at fault, and what they need to do to make it right again. Does that make sense?

Jen: 00:14:37

Absolutely, yeah. When we make that evaluation, almost always we’re the ones in the right, right?

Christine: 00:14:43

Right. Of course. Why is that?

Jen: 00:14:45

Yeah. If they would do things my way or the way that I need them to be done, then things would be better around here.

Christine: 00:14:53

And you know for me, I’ll have to say that observation was the hardest of all the tools. There’s only four tools, but that one I spent years just going, okay, that’s an evaluation. That’s such…

Christine: 00:15:09

Okay, so that’s my jackal and it’s a reminder to try to return to a consciousness that is more open, more curious more, you know, just like, okay, so this is what happened. Nobody did anything to anybody. This is actually what happened.

Jen: 00:15:27

Right. I just also want to point out, it seems to me to be sort of very western centric view of the world, the idea that there is a truth and that people from other cultures may have other ways of seeing this. What do you think about that? Just briefly.

Christine: 00:15:41

I love that. I love that. I think we do tend to be a little bit more, like you say, a little more moralistic, we’re kind of dualistic in the sense of this is right, this is wrong, this is good, this is bad, this is appropriate, this is inappropriate. And can we have a more fluidity in that and look at something and just see it for what it is.
Jen: 00:16:05 Okay. So, let’s go into the second of the four tools. What’s the difference between feelings and thoughts?

Christine: 00:16:11

Feelings and thoughts. So, we often talk about feelings and we talk about false feelings that are attached to a thought. So sometimes we call that faux feelings or victim feelings. So a true feeling is from the inside out. So you’re probably not going to argue with me if I say to you, I feel sad, I feel scared, I feel confused, I feel frustrated, I feel mad because it’s my true feeling, right? So, false feeling it may sound like a feeling, but actually it’s a thought when the judgment attached. So for example, I might say to a child, I feel taken for granted, right?

Christine: 00:17:01

Or I feel unappreciated. So, you can see that’s kind of from the outside in. It’s not from the inside out.

Jen: 00:17:08

Yeah. And when you say outside in, it has that kind of evaluation baked into it. It’s not truly something you’re feeling. They’re probably our feelings that you’re feeling that are making you feel uncomfortable, but being taken advantage of is not one of those feelings.

Christine: 00:17:23

Yeah. So when we come from this kind of thinking, then you know, or we say it’s a feeling, we’re actually blaming the child and we’re not taking responsibility for our true feelings and our true needs. So, let’s say I say I feel unappreciated. So what would the parent actually be feeling? Maybe sad, maybe unhappy because they’re wanting some sort of understanding or acknowledgement or something like that. So, there’s kind of a should thinking, you should appreciate me, you shouldn’t take me for granted. And again, there’s blame. So we’re trying to avoid that.

Jen: 00:18:04

Since we’re on that topic of feelings, we hear a lot these days about emotional intelligence, which I think is defined as the ability to recognize and experience and name our feelings no matter how uncomfortable they might be. And we touched on this in my episode on Emotion Regulation and can you say a bit more about that emotional intelligence idea?

Christine: 00:18:23

Yes, I’d be happy to. I think that there are many parents, I think I was one of them who want to protect their children from uncomfortable feelings, which is completely understandable. We don’t want our children to feel badly. We don’t want them to suffer. So, a parent might sort of in a way I wanna say unconsciously, they might deny a child’s feeling or discount the feeling, they might say something like, there’s nothing to be afraid of or don’t be sad, I’ll get you another hamster, thinking that this is going to help the child minimize these feelings of fear or sadness or loss and therefore the child is going to suffer less. Right? So, what can happen if we try to protect our children from feelings that we think are uncomfortable or hurt is that the child might subconsciously think their feelings don’t matter.

Christine: 00:19:31

Their feelings are not important or not allowed. So, when those feelings might come up for them, they might start to repress them and repressing or exiling feelings of course can lead to other problems. So, the idea then is to allow and encourage our children to feel their feelings as normal and healthy. Then this is going to increase their emotional literacy and their ability to recognize what they are feeling and just allowing those feelings to come and go. An interesting side note is that children who can recognize a name the feelings of other children are actually more popular with their peers, which I find interesting.

Jen: 00:20:16

Because they’re better able to understand what these children are experiencing and thus able to tailor their own responses, which makes them more like? Does that kind of how the idea flows?
Christine: 00:20:27 Yeah. It’s like they’re giving their peers empathy. If they were to say to a child, oh, you seem sad. They’re seeing the cues of the other child experiencing or touching on sadness and it’s an empathetic connection with that child, which the other child feels kind of validated in their feelings. So yes.

Jen: 00:20:47

Yeah. And I just want to throw out one idea that came to me as you were sort of talking through the idea of validating emotions rather than sort of pushing back on them. One thing I like to do is to think through, okay, what would I do if this happened to an adult or what would happen if this happened to me and somebody was trying to comfort me? If my cat died a number of years ago and if my husband had said, oh, don’t worry, we’ll get another cat. And I’ve had it for 16 years. I was pretty attached to her. That probably wouldn’t have been very popular. And just on a sort of day-to-day basis, our children fall over all the time. They hurt themselves all the time. If I stub my toe and it really hurts.

Jen: 00:21:25

The last thing I want to hear is, oh, you’re okay. Right? It’s insulting.

Christine: 00:21:33

Be grateful you didn’t break your toe.

Jen: 00:21:37

Exactly. It could have been worse. Oh, if only you’d done what I told you to and move that thing out of the way, you wouldn’t have tripped on it. So, we sort of try and protect our children from their feelings at the same time as we’re sort of lecturing them on how we told them to prevent it in the first place. And instead just a validation of, oh, you hurt your foot would be so much more validating and helpful to them.

Christine: 00:22:01

I teach college students. So, when I give them the lesson on feelings, I’ll usually ask them to start by discussing in small groups how feelings were validated or not validated or how they were represented in their family of origin. And they come up with the most interesting stories about what parents may had said to them. Again, this is not in any way blame the parents, but to help them understand how they were trained around feelings and it’s really great. They get to see that and then they get to maybe make different choices.

Jen: 00:22:40

Yeah and we will certainly be talking a lot more with the listeners about that in the coming days. So, we’ve talked about two of the four tools. Can we go into the third one, which is what’s the difference between needs and strategies?

Christine: 00:22:52

So, needs. Here is where we get to the heart of nonviolent communication by connecting to these basic universal human needs. And they are universal because most people will say, yeah, I have that need too. Basic human needs would be things like friendship, love, belonging, contribution, acceptance, understanding, mattering, movement, rests, fun, play, recreation. So we recognize these and others as needs that we also have. So this connects us to our humanists, to our humanity. So that would be a need. But a strategy then is how we try to meet our need. I remember living in another culture and I’d hear people say, oh, you’re such a can do American. It is so funny like they connected Americans are can do. And I thought at the time it was sort of a compliment but I think that our culture has a really strong emphasis on identifying the problem and then finding a solution immediately.

Christine: 00:23:59

Let’s fix what’s wrong. Now, there’s nothing wrong with that, especially if you’re an engineer or something you are working on a project. But in everyday human interactions, I think it’s really important to focus on what’s important, what matters. That might be what you’re feeling at any given moment. So in the case of the statement like, okay, I’ll get you another hamster. It leaves out a super important step, which that would be a strategy, right? And that important step is to acknowledge what is going on for that child. What are they experiencing in the moment? So, I think that we’re just way too often ready to quick jump into a strategy. And if we can just stop and acknowledge feelings and needs, what can happen is often a strategy will arise and we don’t have to fix it.

Jen: 00:24:50

Okay. And so just to pull that out more fully, if we keep coming back to this hamster example, what might be the need of a child who’s hamster has just died?

Christine: 00:25:01

I’m imagining to really fully feel the loss, you know, I don’t know that you would say to a child, do you just need to mourn and grieve? Using their language, you know, oh, you really loved your hamster, you were good friends and I can imagine you’re really going to miss your hamstring. You are just staying with that experience, and not try to jump over what’s up for them in that moment.

Jen: 00:25:30

Yeah, and maybe I’m wondering, partly the reason why we do this, we jumped straight to the strategies to fix things is that I think we are really terrible identifying our own needs. I was actually talking with a listener in a new series of episodes that I’ve been running, which is called Sharing Your Parenting Mojo, which is where I interviewed listeners about challenges they’re having in parenting. And this episode actually with a lady named Shawna will be live by the time your episode comes out, and she was talking about challenges she’s having when she feels triggered by her child. And I was saying, okay, can you think through what is your need in that moment when you’re being triggered? And she just kind of paused and she said, I don’t know. I don’t think about that. And I thought, yeah, that’s absolutely right. When we’re in that moment particularly, it’s really hard for us to identify our need and even when we’re not in the moment, I’m not sure I could identify a need that I have at this moment right now.

Christine: 00:26:23

Yeah. I think that that’s true. I think there’s a bit of just kind of re-parenting that, we kind of need to do of ourselves to help us get connected to those basic human needs and values because ultimately they are the motivators that are driving us. Just the fact that you’re doing this show, right? A strong data, I’m guessing for you, need for contribution, a need to be able to support others in a really important skill, and a need for your own learning and growth. Because as you researched each episode, you’re learning and you’re growing. So you’re meeting all these wonderful needs by just doing the show. We don’t always stop to think what are they, but they’re happening. They’re motivating us constantly.

Jen: 00:27:09

Yeah. And if we can understand better that they are there and that they are motivating us, then we can choose strategies that help us to meet our needs. Instead of ones that work against their needs. Okay. But we’re going to get to that. So before we get to that, let’s talk through the fourth of the four tools in NVC. What’s the difference between demands and requests?

Christine: 00:27:32

So demands would imply no choice whatsoever. So, I often ask my students, how does it feel when somebody makes a demand on you? The answers usually doesn’t feel good. So if I’m truly making a request, then I know that hearing a no is a legitimate response. I make a request, I’m asking you to do something, I really only want you to do it if it meets a need of yours, not because you’re hearing it from me and you want to please me or you think you should or something like that. So with demands, the only choice is to submit or rebel and neither option feels good. So, from working with children and adults for over 20 years now in nonviolent communication, I’ve become aware that many people don’t always know what they’re needing or like you said earlier, they’re reluctant to express them. So, they don’t make requests or maybe they just kind of hint at what they want.

Christine: 00:28:43

So when making a request, it’s important to be really specific. So make sure the request is doable and frame it by what we do want. So the properties of a request needs to be specific, a doable, do want. So say a teacher might say to a child, please stop kicking Marco’s chair. Which is what they don’t want, correct? They don’t want them to kick Marco’s chair and so the child starts kicking Alex’s chair. So, they’re not kicking Marco’s chair anymore but they’re kicking somebody else’s chair. So a better way might be to say what you do want. So would you please keep your feet under your desk, right? ‘Cause that’s the do what and that’s what she’s really wanting or he’s wanting. So, a parent might say, please don’t spill your ice cream.

Christine: 00:29:36

So that would be, oh no, they don’t want but the parent could say like, oh gosh, when I see you hold your ice cream cone sideways like that, I’m concerned and I’m wondering if you could try to hold it upright and maybe even show them like could you hold up like this so it won’t spill.

Christine: 00:29:53

Then the child gets what the do want is. So I noticed this like in myself, when I’m writing emails, I can so easily say to someone what I’m not wanting, what I’m concerned might happen. And then I reread it and go, okay, erase, erase, erase. I want to just kind of more positive action language. Then the energy, the attention, the focus is on the do want.

Jen: 00:30:19

Okay. So that part I think is clear that you want to phrase what you want to have happen, not what you don’t want to have happen. I want to go a bit more in depth on the idea of what’s going to motivate the other person to work with you. And I wasn’t planning to do this, but I’m going to use a personal example. So a few days ago I always unload the dishwasher. Every other morning when the dishwasher is clean, I unload it. And most of the time it’s fine. It doesn’t take that long. But sometimes, it’d be nice not to be the person who does it all the time. We were running late one morning, I think I had an interview to record, didn’t get done and it’s come down to lunchtime. My husband is working from home at the moment and the dishwasher is still full and I just say to him, do I have to always be the person who unloads the dishwasher?

Jen: 00:31:03

And of course I know NVC and I think I even thought about using it and I just thought, you know what? I am frustrated. I am going to say it in the way I’m going to say it. And he said, okay. And then this morning I had a hard time getting to sleep last night. And so when Carys came into our room early and she wanted breakfast, I said, can you ask daddy to make breakfast? And he came out and made her breakfast and I heard the dishwasher being unloaded and I thought, is it Mother’s Day? ‘Cause that was the last time the dishwasher was unloaded and then I realized it came from this conversation and so I had made a demand and he acquiesced. He unloaded the dishwasher, but now I think through it again, it’s possible the reason he acquiesced was not to meet a need of his own. It wasn’t to meet maybe a need for a connection that he might have with me or something like that. It’s because I kind of demanded that he do it. Right?

Christine: 00:31:54

So let’s just rewind.

Jen: 00:31:56

Sure. Let’s relive my mistake.

Christine: 00:31:59

First of all, it sounds like, I think I heard you say that you almost always unload the dishwasher. So you sort of made it like a job that you do in your family. And so in nonviolent communication we have the saying, “Only do something if it like gives you the joy of child feeding the hungry duck, which of course not everything’s going to get successfully.”

Jen: 00:32:26

Wait, this is Marie Kondo. Is this where she gets this from?

Christine: 00:32:29

Did she say that?

Jen: 00:32:31

Well, it’s like only have positions that bring you joy.

Christine: 00:32:35

So it maybe that you’ve had times where you’ve unloaded dishwasher and you’ve kind of maybe like not had that sense of oh, I’m contributing to the family, I enjoy doing this. But maybe it started to become a sense of light duty and responsibility.

Jen: 00:32:52

Yeah. I’d say that’s right.

Christine: 00:32:54

Yeah. So when you were kind of overwhelmed, a little stressed and the dishwasher didn’t get unloaded, let’s just go back to what you were feeling at that moment. It wasn’t being unloaded, you didn’t have time to unload it. And so, you made that comment.

Jen: 00:33:12

Yeah. I didn’t feel like I should be the person who always does it. I was frustrated. That was my feeling.

Christine: 00:33:17

Yeah. So you’re frustrated and let’s just try to get to what the need might have been in that moment. So do you want me to guess or do you wanna…

Jen: 00:33:28

Yeah. Go ahead.

Christine: 00:33:30

You would have liked support. I’m imagining you would have like shared responsibility around some household chores. You would have liked some contribution.

Jen: 00:33:40

Yeah, definitely. That I think probably is key. The idea that we’re in this together and that that’s expressed not just through doing the chores but through other things as well. But the chore can sometimes be sort of a symbol of the other things too, right?

Christine: 00:33:54

Oh absolutely. Yeah. So I think it kind of even rewinding even earlier, and so it kind of built up inside of you and built up inside of you to the point where then you kind of have this reaction, why am I always the one who empties the dishwasher? Or am I the only one? And he may or may not have even been aware of the fact that you empty the dishwasher.

Jen: 00:34:20

It possibly wasn’t. Yeah. I mean, he does do it for Mother’s Day, so he knows somewhere deep inside that it’s a treat for me not to have to do it every day.

Christine: 00:34:29

Yeah. So maybe that before it gets to that point where you know, it builds up to the point where you’ve kind of made that comment to actually say, hey, I’m noticing that I’ve got some resistance to emptying the dishwasher all the time. And I’m wondering if we can actually have a conversation about household chores. So you get to actually make a request of your partner and say, let’s have a conversation about that because there may be certain things you prefer to do and I prefer to do, but there might be other things that we can share in the responsibility. And let’s say you really do want to empty the dishwasher and you like it and you don’t mind doing it, but there’s times like the other day where you really didn’t have time, in which case I’m thinking it might have been easier for you to say, oh hey, would you be willing to empty the dishwasher, right?

Jen: 00:35:22

A request.

Christine: 00:35:24

Yeah. Just a totally reminder.

Jen: 00:35:26

And would you be willing to do this? And what would his answer had been? His answer would have been yes.

Christine: 00:35:31

Yeah. It sounds like he totally enjoys contributing, cooperating and being part also.
Jen: 00:35:37 Yeah and he would have helped me if I ask him. Okay. So, now we’ve thoroughly dissected how I failed in NVC. Let’s talk about how we can do this differently with our children. Because I think when our children say or does something that we don’t like, we can potentially consider one of four responses. And some of these we might do or more automatically kind of like me and the frustrated moment and others we might be less familiar with, but they can be more helpful. So can we walk through those four potential responses? The first one I think is blaming ourselves. So how might we blame ourselves?

Christine: 00:36:19

So this would be like our inner jackal critic. So for example, the child does something that we’re not enjoying, right? So inner the jackal critic says, oh man, I really blew it. I should’ve known better. I shouldn’t have asked the child to do something that they’re not capable of doing. I don’t have a clue about how to be a good parent. I’m really crappy at this. So there’s this internal inner critic we turned it into ourselves.

Jen: 00:36:52

Okay. So probably not super productive in getting the thing done or in sort of developing the relationship we want to have with our children. Okay. The second one’s not much better. We could blame others.

Christine: 00:37:04

Yeah. Well, so this is the jackal critic turned outward. So blame ourselves or blame the other. And this one we all know really well. So you’re thoughtless, you’re careless, you’re incompetent. We turn it on them. We don’t take any self-responsibility for our part in what’s going on. And it’s so much easier to point the finger than look at ourselves. Yeah, we’ve been modeled that quite a bit.

Jen: 00:37:35

Yeah. Okay. But the other couple of things we can do are more productive. So the first one of those is connecting to our own feelings and needs. How would we go about doing that in a moment where we’re maybe feeling frustrated with something our child has done?

Christine: 00:37:48

So what you just pointed to is really at the heart of nonviolent communication. And you’ve heard that expression, put the oxygen mask on before giving oxygen to the child. So this would be self-compassion. How we can actually stop, take a moment, take a breath and be able to connect with what’s going on for us in that moment. So, there’s a lot of noise and there’s a lot of commotion going on. I can just go, oh man, I’m so tired and I’m just exhausted and stressed and I just so want ease and peace in this moment. So this is like the heart of everything. This is like critical. That’s the biggest, most important thing we can possibly do is the self-compassion.

Jen: 00:38:42

So, when you’re in this moment of, you’re about to respond to this really frustrated way to take that second or a few seconds that just attuned to yourself first. And then once you have your oxygen mask on, you can turn to your child with an oxygen mask that asks about their feelings and needs, right?

Christine: 00:39:01

Exactly. So we’re able to actually turn to the child and say, I’m wondering if you’re feeling upset or frustrated or unhappy because you really want to do this thing or you want to make your own decision about how we proceed with whatever. So we’re able to connect with our self first, critical and in that moment and that’s what’s going to save us from going into reactivity of being triggered, stop, breathe, pause, relax our body, what’s going on for me? And when I can do that then it’s much easier, I can turn to the other person and go, yeah, I’m guessing you’re going to be sad about that. You really wanted to spend time with your friends.

Jen: 00:39:51

And you’re not ready to go yet and we need to go because whatever. We have stuff to do.

Christine: 00:39:56

Yeah. So we kind of go back and forth between this like honesty and empathy. So honesty would be, I need to get home in time to get dinner ready on the table. So we’re going.

Jen: 00:40:08

Yeah. So to bring that back to what we said earlier, this is not necessarily about permissive parenting. You don’t have to say because your child does not ready to leave their friends house. Oh, you’re not ready to leave. Okay. We’ll stay another hour then. But then you can have empathy for their feeling. You may potentially be able to adjust the scenario. You know, maybe I could call daddy and ask him to put the rice on for dinner so that when we get home, there’s not as much to do. And you could have another 15 minutes with your friends, but it’s possible that daddy’s not home and we need to go and cook dinner. So, we don’t necessarily have to roll over as it were and do whatever our child is asking. It’s okay to kind of be the parent and say, this is what we need to do. But at the same time, you can empathize with your child’s feelings about that.

Christine: 00:40:54

Yeah. And I think the child can see that we really do respect their choices and their desire to do something different and that we’re acknowledging that. I love the I-wish scenario. I wish you could stay here for hours and hours and hours and we’re still, you know, we try to not use some but. Because the but sort of does a race with what we just said so and we still have to go.

Jen: 00:41:25

Okay. So let’s string all this together then. Let’s make this super practical. So I’m just imagining a typical evening at our house, I’m trying to get the dinner ready. Might be my daughter’s jumping up and down on the sofa and it is starting to drive me up the wall. What’s going to happen? How am I going to handle this?

Christine: 00:41:44

Okay, well you could say to your child, stop jumping on the sofa. You’re driving mommy nuts.

Jen: 00:41:52

And then when she keeps doing it, in another minute I could say?

Christine: 00:41:57

Yeah. I mean, you know, if you were to talk to her like that, that’s kind of an automatic response which may not be the one you want to choose. And it doesn’t really respect her needs.

Jen: 00:42:07

It could escalate. It could very easily escalate to more sort of violence as it were, language and potentially physically removing her from the sofa or something like that. So rather than going in that direction, what are we going to do?

Christine: 00:42:21

So, if we want to go into the kind of NVC consciousness, it will slow things down a bit and in the long run it can lead to more harmony and more cooperation in the family. So I will start with what sometimes we call emergency first aid self-empathy. So you take the time to connect with yourself. So maybe you take a breath, you relax a little bit and you notice what’s going on inside your own body and what you’re experiencing at the moment. So Jen, what do you think you might be feeling at that moment?

Jen: 00:42:59

I would think if I’ve had a hard day at work, I would be exhausted and possibly exasperated that I’ve asked her once to stop jumping on the sofa and she’s still doing it. And potentially also a bit apprehensive that there’s going to be a conflict coming. I see it coming and I’m not sure what else to do.

Christine: 00:43:23

So I heard you say somewhat exasperated and exhausted. So probably feeling some tension, some stress in your body. So that’s what you’re feeling and with the physical, there’s this actual body sensations that we’re feeling. So let’s go to the needs and what are you imagining you might be needing or wanting in that moment as opposed to a strategy you’re wanting her to stop, right? What would it be the actual human need or value?

Jen: 00:43:54

I think, I mean, firstly it’s the need for cooperation in our relationship that if I have what I perceive to be a legitimate reason, that I wanted to stop doing something, that she will cooperate with me. That there’s kind of a sense of order in our home when I’m trying to get us through this period of getting dinner ready and getting bath done and getting ready for bed. And also kind of a sense of tranquility that we can do this in a peaceful, calm way because I find that easier to deal with after a stressful day at work.

Christine: 00:44:28

Yeah. Yeah. That’s beautiful. So if you were to get cooperation and when you say cooperation, in this case, you’re asking her to do something and you wanting her to do it. So if she were to cooperate and to stop jumping on the couch and it was a little bit quieter, I’m imagining then your need for tranquility, peace of mind, ease, comfort would be met. Correct?

Jen: 00:44:57


Christine: 00:44:58

Okay. So you stop, notice inside of you, you know, not so much like, oh, I have that need and it is not being met, but more of a kind of like, oh, this is my need. This is my beautiful need, this is what I would really enjoy right now. So we’re not coming from a sense of like scarcity of the need, but really just kind of a fullness of how important that is to you. So once you can kind of relax into that and really wanting tranquility, wanting some sense of order and peace and ease, once we can feel that and really hold that inside of ourselves, then we can turn to the child. So let’s talk about what are you imagining your daughter might be feeling while she’s jumping on the couch?

Jen: 00:45:48

I am guessing, I mean she wouldn’t say this because she’s four and I don’t think her need vocabulary, her feelings vocabulary is particularly sophisticated yet. But I think that inside herself she would be feeling kind of a need for freedom and to do something that her body feels like doing. And so a sense of spontaneity as well that if I want to jump on the couch, hey I’m going to jump on the couch ‘cause it feels good and a sense of physical movement in there as well. This is I need to move my body right now and because I am spontaneous and because I have this freedom, I’m going to go ahead and do it.

Christine: 00:46:22

Yeah. And I’m guessing because she’s a child, there’s also a need for fun and play.

Jen: 00:46:26

Sure. Yeah.

Christine: 00:46:27

So, those are the needs and then I’m guessing she’s feeling probably happy and joyful and somehow there’s, like you said, there’s a sense of freedom. So I would start with going to the needs, like you said, you’re not going to say to her, oh, you’re experiencing spontaneity in movement. No. I would start with the fun part. I’d say, oh, it looks like you’re having so much fun.

Christine: 00:46:56

And she’s going owee, aye, oh, like she is showing you this in her whole body that you acknowledge in this moment what’s going on for her. And that is giving her empathy. And you can say, oh, I can see how much fun you’re having and joyful, you feel so free and your body, and she can hear that and she can acknowledge that. And it’s like you’re validating her whole experience in the moment. So when we empathize with someone, it does not mean I agree with you or I disagree with you. It just means I see you, I see what’s going on, I see how you’re feeling and I’m acknowledging that. Right? So at that moment then you might say something like, oh, can you stop for a moment and talk to mommy? I don’t know if you talked to her like that but talk to me. And then you get to give her your honesty.

Christine: 00:47:50

And your honesty is pretty much the same as your self-empathy. So maybe you say something like, sound just hurting my head and it would be really nice if I can have a little bit of quiet but I know how much fun you’re having. So I’m wondering if we can talk about a way that you can have fun and I can also have some quiet. So children I think really want to please their parents if they can also meet their own needs. So you might find, this is where, again, the strategy might find you. You might find that she has a really creative way to make this work.

Jen: 00:48:28

Yup. We’ve definitely seen this already because we use problem solving tools that are sort of similar to this. Yeah, that’s exactly the moment we should say, I’m going to go and jump on the bed. So, she’s in her room jumping on her bed, it’s far enough away from me that I don’t have to hear it. She’s getting her needs met, I’m getting my needs met, and she’s actually getting really good at identifying these kind of mutually agreeable solutions.

Christine: 00:48:52

Oh, how wonderful. So, I think when children sense that you’re not just trying to get your own way, right? They’re going to be much more helpful and even they want to contribute. They want to be part of the solution. I’ll tell you another quick little story of something that happened to me this week. I was in Santa Cruz where I teach and I was staying in a hotel room and I was exhausted and I had to be at university early the next morning. It was like 10:00 PM and there were three women in the room next to my room. They were laughing, they were talking, having such a good time just like your daughter, right? And so I’m like, okay, well I’m an NVC trainer.

Christine: 00:49:39

I knocked on the door and immediately there was silence. Nobody came to the door, nothing. So I just stood there for a minute, like nothing happens. So I knocked again and then I heard this voice go, who is it?

Jen: 00:49:56

It’s the police.

Christine: 00:49:59

Exactly. Yeah, I could’ve said that but I said, oh, I’m staying in a room next door. And it sounds like you guys are having so much fun in there and really enjoying yourselves. And then I heard this voice go, yeah, so I said, well, I need to get up early the next morning. And I’m wondering if you would just be willing to lower your voices and speak a little softer. And they were quite pleasant and they agreed. They said, oh sure. And believe it or not, I didn’t hear another word all night. I’m not sure what happened because in other cases like that, I think they might’ve been quiet for a little bit of time and then all of a sudden gotten louder again, but they didn’t. It get really helped that I recognize their feelings, I recognize their needs first before making a request to get my needs met.

Jen: 00:50:49

Yeah. And so this is such a powerful tool for your communication with anybody, whether it’s someone that you have a relationship that you’re truly invested in, like you are with your partner, with your child, or with somebody who you never even met face to face. They were on the other side of a door.

Christine: 00:51:06

And I think I really, really have to come from a perspective of I’m willing to hear a no. And if that were true, I can get some ear plugs or I can request to be in another room or I can find some other strategy or some other solution to get my needs met because it’s not always like you have to meet my needs. I can meet my own needs. And that’s really important to know and to acknowledge.

Jen: 00:51:30

Yeah. It doesn’t have to be about the other person changing their behavior or changing something important about themselves. It can be you, you making a change as well. Okay. So I want to shift gears a little bit as we’re sort of heading towards the conclusion. So regular listeners to the show like that I always kind of looked for a peer reviewed research on the effectiveness of the strategies and tools that I recommend and I try to do that here. And there are a few studies that have found NVC to be effective for things like reducing the recidivism rate, which I’m guessing is one reason you’re at San Quentin and higher levels of empathy in college students. But the research has really hampered by a lot of constraints, not least of which is that the way that traditional standardized test measure empathy doesn’t actually really measure empathy in the way that it’s defined by NVC. And so I’m wondering if you’re surprised that there hasn’t been a greater effort to design and validate better measurement tools to study the effectiveness of NVC and also just to get some kind of sense of what gives you the confidence to know that this tool is something that you want to put your life’s work into?

Christine: 00:52:31

Yeah. Jen, that’s such a great question. Certainly it helps to have research to substantiate any claims that this process is effective and worth learning. So people like to know things are scientifically proven. So, this is a topic that has been discussed quite a bit by the trainers and the certified trainers. As of yet, there really are only just a handful of studies. And I think part of it is because Marshall Rosenberg, he was 100% committed to sharing nonviolent communication. He really didn’t have time for research and there wasn’t really money, when this was all being spread and taught and when he was still alive. So it was a grassroots organization never received much in the way of public monies or foundation money. At least first 20 years that’s true. So you asked, why would I devote my life energy to something that has not been fully measured and validated?

Christine: 00:53:35

I have been a meditator for over 40 years and it’s only been, I would say, the last 10 or 15 years where a significant research has been done to prove the benefits of meditation. Right? So, I knew when I first meditated that it had a profound impact and I continue to see the value of it. And I also feel the same about nonviolent communication because to me, I look at my life and I feel like my life is better than it’s ever been. My relationships are healthy and strong and I’ve also helped a number of other people improve their relationships. So, to me it’s really all about learning and growing. And I really believe that relationship is a path to self-discovery with self and with others. So I love it. And there is a bit of research that’s been done but nothing really conclusive and substantive like you said. And what’s interesting is compassion, which of course an online communication has also been called Compassionate Communication. It’s even a newer area of research. But I know research is forthcoming from Stanford and other universities. So, I think we’ll start seeing a lot more of that.

Jen: 00:54:55

Yeah. And just on a sort of anecdotal basis, I have to say this has really ruined a lot of TV watching for me. I was just re-watching old episodes of The West Wing and they have so many political crisis they try and negotiate through. And I’m just thinking, of course they can’t figure out an agreement on how to partition Israel and Palestine because they don’t understand each other’s needs. They’re just talking about, you know, you did this and we did that. They never get to the underlying thing. And so once you start to pick up these ideas and this vocabulary, you see it everywhere in our culture that we just don’t do it. And if we could sort of take on these ideas of identifying our feelings, identifying our needs, I mean, the implications could be so profound for so many tiny conflicts about the dishwasher to massive conflicts that affect millions of people.

Christine: 00:55:42

Yeah. I completely agree with you. I think what we see in the popular culture is really a reflection of the sort of sense of separation and who’s right, who’s wrong, who wins, who loses. Who’s the good guy and who’s the bad guy. It’s in almost every story. It’s a whole drama triangle, victim, villain, and hero.

Jen: 00:56:06

Yeah. Yeah. If it’s a good guy and a bad guy, then yeah, you can’t truly understand everybody’s needs. Can you?

Christine: 00:56:15

It’d be nice though.

Jen: 00:56:17

So I think sort of bringing it back to us parents, one reason that we struggle with a tool like this I mean, when I was identifying my needs and parents may have been listening to this thinking, oh, well she can really do that really well and identify her needs and I’m going to tell you a cheat. There are lists of needs online and feelings. And I had to look at the list to think, oh yeah, that’s what I would be feeling at the moment when my daughter’s jumping on the couch. And I think, you know, as I heard and listeners will hear from my listener Shawna, who we mentioned earlier, we just find it too hard to identify what is our need, what is our feeling, and then you know, what’s the right one and connect that feeling to the need. And so you actually developed some games that can help us with this. So I wonder if you can tell us a bit about that.

Christine: 00:57:03

Yes. Thank you for asking. Just to backtrack a little bit to what you’re saying about how hard this is. I do think there’s kind of awkward phase learning on both the communication. Like I remember when my kids were teenagers I would say, are you feeling… they are like “oh, mom are you doing that NVC stuff again? I hate it when you do that.” Because it’s like a whole shift of consciousness, we’re used to doing it a different way. And so trying to really learn, not only learn the tools, but learn the consciousness, it’s a lot. It’s like taking a giant cargo ship and trying to turn it around on a dime. It’s going to take a really long time to really do it. And to do it in a way that it doesn’t feel awkward or stilted or mechanical. But once we get past that kind of awkward stage, there’s something just really beautiful about it. When I first started having success, it wasn’t with my family, it was in the sauna at the gym.

Jen: 00:58:11

Oh, okay.

Christine: 00:58:12

You know, when you’re in a little box with people, then they’re like, why are those women out there in the pool and they’re doing their aerobic exercises. I wanted to swim and I could say, yeah, you really need your exercise. So, I didn’t have to go into justifying why they were having an aerobics class and just connect with that person. And so eventually I got around to being able to use it with my kids and then didn’t, it was kind of self NVC I didn’t know.

Christine: 00:58:44

Anyway, getting back to the game. So, my colleague, Jean Morrison and I started designing NV products probably about 15 years ago. We started with a game called Grok. And it’s based on a science fiction book called Stranger in a Strange Land where people Grok each other and they don’t have to really talk. They just completely understand another person. So the game includes 70 feelings cards, 70 needs cards along with an instruction manual that gives 20 ways to play the game. So we’ve sold over 35,000 copies, it’s been translated into six languages. And I think why people like it so much is both because it’s fun, but also it’s a real holistic approach to learning these tools. So there’s the auditory and the visual and the kinesthetic. So it’s playful and fun, but it’s also very holistic. So we also had a kids’ version called Kids Grok, which has illustrations of bears for the feelings and needs cards.
Christine: 00:59:55 And it also has a booklet for parents and teachers and guardians who work with children and kind of explains how to work with all the different cards. So anyone who might be interested can go to our website. And the website is called GrokTheWorld.com. And can I also put a little plug in for other trainers who are doing work with children?

Jen: 01:00:20

Yeah, go for it.

Christine: 01:00:21

So there’s a trainer named Sura Hart and her partner, Victoria Kindle, and they have a game called the No-Fault Zone, which is being used in classrooms like all over the world to help children learn nonviolent communication. And another thing I think that might be interesting for parents is there are NVC family camps all around the country so that you can just do a search for NVC family camps.

Jen: 01:00:50

And so just to get back to your game, you were kind enough to send me a copy of it. And when it came in the mail, I opened up the box and I saw all the feelings cards and the needs cards. And I have to say I was initially slightly underwhelmed. I thought, oh, it’s needs cards and cards with pictures of needs on and feelings. And then I kind of put it aside and I came back to it and I read the booklet that came with it and I just went, oh, the cards are there to kind of support you through this process. But the real meat of it is in this booklet that gives them a brief background on NVC and has these really fun games for identifying needs and feelings. And I took it on a camping weekend that was coming up shortly after I received it.

Jen: 01:01:34

And we were with another five and a half year old and my daughter’s four and a half. And so we were just sitting around the campfire, flashing needs and feelings cards at each other and one child would hold one up so they couldn’t see it and we would have to get them to guess what was the need on the card by our acting it out. And they were totally into it. And other parents were like, what are you guys doing? And I explained to them, they said, oh wow, I can’t believe she’s learning something that can really improve her emotional literacy. And she’s so into it. And so yeah, it was going from that underwhelmed opening to, wow, this is really cool. It was kind of a cool experience for me. So, I would definitely recommend getting that kid’s game.

Jen: 01:02:14

I think there are probably 20 different ways you said that you can play with just these really simple cards that can really increase your children’s vocabulary. I mean quite frankly, I have a lot of work to do on this to be able to better identify my feelings on the fly and my needs on the fly. And I know that my daughter does as well. She knows happy, she knows sad, she knows frustrated. But there are so many other feelings out there that can potentially, you know, the words that can better encapsulate what she is actually truly feeling. And if I can give her that vocabulary, then I mean life is going to be a richer experience for doing that, I think.

Christine: 01:02:51

And she can start recognizing things like, oh, this is what disappointment feels like.
Jen: 01:02:56 Yes, exactly. Yeah. So yeah, there’s that. And then another tool to recommend is a book by a woman named Inbal Kashtan and it’s called Parenting from Your Heart. And Marshall Rosenberg who started NVC has a book on parenting as well. I have to say, Christine and I talked about this before we got online and neither of us were in love with Marshall’s book on parenting as much as we love NVC. But Inbal’s book is really fabulous. It’s super short. I think it’s only 30 or 40 pages. It’s a booklet rather than a book, but it just gets to the heart of everything that we’ve talked about today and really kind of distills it and makes it into these easier to use tools. Is there anything else that you want to say about what you’ve learned from that book?

Christine: 01:03:39

Well, I think she posted a lot of examples, which I think is really, really helpful for parents and she taught parenting for a long time and it’s called Parenting from Your Heart which I think is really where I guess you like really having that heartfelt, heart condition parenting. So yeah, very, very helpful.

Jen: 01:03:57

Yeah. Awesome. Well, I feel as though we’ve covered a lot of ground here and we’ve really dug fairly deeply into what is NVC and at the same time as understanding the concepts, we’ve given parents a lot of tools that they can use. And I’m going to put some references in the show notes for this episode where you can find links to the game that Christine developed, which again is called Kids Grok and you can find that at GrokTheWorld.com and all the other things that she’s mentioned about the videos, about jackals and giraffes and even the ones of her doing that. And other lists of feelings and needs that you might want to print out and stick on your fridge and use as a reference point until you get more comfortable identifying these things. We’ll put all those in the show notes. So thanks so much for sharing your time today, Christine. I’m really grateful.

Christine: 01:04:42

Thank you, Jen. I thoroughly enjoyed it.



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About the author, Jen

Jen Lumanlan (M.S., M.Ed.) hosts the Your Parenting Mojo podcast (www.YourParentingMojo.com), which examines scientific research related to child development through the lens of respectful parenting.

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